Living Torah by Rabbi Ari Enkin

This week’s Torah portion is Vayelech (Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30).  It is the shortest Torah portion of the year! In fact, it is so short that it is rarely read on its own as it is this year.  In most years, Vayelech is combined with last week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim (which is also a short one) in order to make for a “medium” sized Torah reading.

Vayelech describes the last day of Moses’ life.  He is 120 years old.  He prepares the nation for his passing by re-assuring them that everything will be okay.  They will inherit the Land of Israel and Joshua will be their Divinely appointed leader.  He urges them to be strong, courageous and faithful to the Torah.  Moses also wrote the first complete Torah scroll in history which was then placed in the Holy Ark alongside the tablets of the Ten Commandments.

The commentators note that on his last day, Moses isn’t feeling sorry for himself.  He is not full of self-pity.  He isn’t concerned for his own welfare.  He hasn’t even written a will.  The only thing on Moses’ agenda is the welfare of his people.  His concern for them knew no bounds and, as we see this week, he put the Jewish people even before himself.

Moses’ legacy was one of being a true leader.  To take initiative.  To put the people needs in front of one’s own.  That’s hard to come by these days!

In the days of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (1818-1883) there was a certain city in Lithuania that had a wedding hall where all the wealthy individuals would make their weddings.  It was a very, very fancy hall with all the trimmings.  There was a shoemaker in this city who somehow came upon a small fortune.  When it came time for his daughter to get married, he also held the wedding celebrations in this hall.

The shoemaker, being the good hearted person that he was, invited most of the town to the wedding.  However, when the rich people of the town received their invitations they were shocked and angry!  “Who does this simple shoemaker think he is?” they said to one another.  “He’s making a wedding in OUR hall!  How dare he?!  He is definitely not one of us!”

One these wealthy “guests” decided that he would do something to show the shoemaker who he “really” is.  As he was walking his daughter down the aisle, this fellow approached the shoemaker and yelled for all to hear: “How much to polish these shoes?  I could also use new heels!  How much would that be?”  As you can see, this person wanted to humiliate the shoemaker and make him feel second class.

When Rabbi Yisrael Salanter heard this, his first thought was: “How are the leaders of the city going to defend themselves in Heaven when they are blamed with the responsibility for having produced people with such low character?  How would the rabbis defend themselves by having allowed such an insensitive and rude individual in their midst?

Rabbi Salanter felt that it is the leaders who will be punished for negligence in leadership for having produced a Jew who could be so mean to another Jew. He was essentially taking the blame on his shoulders. Perhaps, he thought, there was more *I* could have done to change the people, to educate, and most importantly, to lead by example.

It is from Moses that great sages like Rabbi Salanter received their inspiration. Even when Moses knew that he was about to die, he continued to admonish, encourage, and charge his people. He wanted to ensure that he left behind a God-fearing nation that would live in harmony and function as an upright society.

We must take this message of leadership to our families and our workplaces and lead by example.

Let every one of us sharpen our behaviors and serve as role models to all those around us.

Shabbat Shalom from Israel!

Rabbi Ari Enkin

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